Shopping is not cheap, especially if you are trying to maintain a limited budget. Retail food prices have risen faster than the overall inflation rate, reports the US Department of Agriculture, with 55% of consumers in 2015 telling Gallup that they are constantly spending more on groceries than the year before. The average American family spent about $ 3,971 on groceries in 2014, equivalent to about $ 331 per month and 7% of annual spending. (If you justify all expenses for eating including eating out, that means $ 6,759 per year and 13% of spending.)
It can be challenging to keep a budget when shopping, but several growing chains help customers save money by offering lower food prices. If you are willing to skimp top quality in-store amenities and want to try branded potato chips instead of Lay’s, you can find stores that offer good deals in most parts of the country.
Because prices vary by region, as do business stores, it can be difficult to compare apples with apples (or eggs with eggs). However, these stores have earned their reputation for saving you money – often even more than your nearest Walmart.
When it comes to cheap groceries, Aldi’s reputation for delivery is almost unbeatable. In a shopping comparison of Cheapism for The Huffington Post, a full shopping cart cost around $ 72.30. The same list of items costs $ 13 more at the local Walmart, and a full $ 21 more at Kroger, one of the regional supermarket chains in the area. Another price comparison in Manhattan showed that Aldi’s prices were about 22% cheaper than Walmart. Some of the biggest savings were on products such as butter, bags of oranges, juice and cereal.
As a Forbes article explains, Aldi can save all that money because it – way, way back – saves on the “necessities” that most other supermarket chains offer. Most of the food is own store labels, and usually only one variety or size of that item is available. Customers do their own shopping with bags from home, and you deposit fifteen minutes to get a shopping cart. When you have finished shopping, you get the quarter back, but when you return it, you save money because customers return the shopping carts and not another employee.
Moreover, you save money because there are fewer options. Aldi stores usually have around 1,400 items, compared to the 30,000 available in many stores. Although that can be seen as a disadvantage, it is not always the case, Trent Hamm writes about The Simple Dollar. “Shopping at a” simpler “supermarket minimizes the number of decisions you make, which reduces decision fatigue, along with the options you have to place unplanned and unnecessary things in your shopping cart,” Hamm explains. Aldi continues a major expansion of stores until 2018 with a target of 2,000 stores nationwide. The chain currently has 1,500 stores in 34 states.
You may never have heard of the next cheapest supermarket …
This smaller chain of around 100 stores is located in Idaho, but has locations in the Pacific Northwest, parts of California, Arizona and Texas. The stores are owned by the employees and are called “Walmart’s worst nightmare” by one grocery analyst.
WinCo also made the list of consumer reports from supermarkets with the best prices. You won’t find much frills in the stores, but the chain often underlines Walmart and other regional supermarket chains. (From personal experience, the store often places characters that compare WinCo’s prices with Walmart and other chains, with WinCo’s often costing 50 cents to a dollar or so cheaper depending on the item.) The store receives items directly from farms and factories, often disable intermediaries who raise the price. You can find WinCo store brand items along with name brands, but the store usually has no more than a few types of popular items.
“Everything is neat and clean, but simple,” Jon Hauptman, partner at consulting firm Willard Bishop, told Supermarket News. “Although the stores are very large, with many categories, they lack depth or breadth of variety.” WinCo also provides savings by asking customers to do their own shopping and refusing to allow credit card purchases. (The extra costs can be deadly for stores.)
Another thing that WinCo does, that Walmart cannot offer: the company treats its employees fairly. Time reports WinCo offers health benefits for everyone who works 24 hours or more per week and also offers a pension that is paid by the company.
Located in the Midwest, this chain of discount supermarkets falls somewhere between Aldi and a typical supermarket in terms of selection, says Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar. The chain saves money with a smaller store and fewer staff, but offers more in terms of product variation. The only thing that stores like Fareway and Aldi miss is a robust product section, although Hamm says the selection at Fareway is slightly better than at Aldi.
Like WinCo, Fareway stores have also made the Consumer Reports list with the best prices. According to the publication, around 45% of people will leave a supermarket in search of lower prices – the most motivating factor for shopping elsewhere. Cleanliness, poor selection and rude employees can also play a role, but money speaks the loudest of all.
Sprouts and Fresh Thyme
Although technically competitors, Sprouts and Fresh Thyme are mentioned in the same breath because of their similar approach to focusing on affordable, fresh products. The stores also offer other items, but present their product selection in the middle of their stores, rather than outside aisles like many store sizes.
Both stores happen to be known for their affordable prices. This is a huge advantage because many cheap supermarkets are reducing their fruit and vegetables to keep labor and delivery costs down. The opposite is true for these chains. “It’s really about quality, freshness and moving volume, hard and fast … We also move three times or more the average stock of a store a week,” said Sprouts CEO Amin Maredia in an investor meeting.
Fresh thyme is mainly in the Midwest, with sprouts in 12 states in the West and other areas. Both chains expect to continue opening new locations, Time reports.
Although this store has a boutique feel with more specialty items than you will find in other discount stores, it is a much more affordable option compared to places such as Whole Foods and other options that focus on quality products. Interestingly, Trader Joe’s is owned by the same family that Aldi owns, and both continue to expand across the country.
Just like Aldi you will find many more store labels instead of recognizable brands for breakfast cereals, muesli bars and frozen meals. Trader Joe’s dedication to affordability, however, placed the chain in the Consumer Reports list of best-priced supermarkets. You will probably be more inclined to add Two Buck Chuck (now actually $ 2.49) and cookie butter to your shopping cart, but you are still more likely to save some money if you sparingly purchase those “extras”.
Salvage grocery outlets
All other grocers on our list work in the same way as any other regional chain, but with less frills. Salvage supermarkets, however, buy the ‘seconds’ that other stores cannot or cannot sell and pass them on to the customer at a much cheaper price. You’ll find branded juices, cereals and canned goods, but many of them will be dented, beaten up a little or approach their expiration date. If you are loyal to certain branded items, but don’t want to pay the money they normally charge, this is a good option.
Many salvage companies are operated independently, but Grocery Outlet Bargain Markets has some stores in Pennsylvania and others on the west coast. As WiseBread points out, their selection of natural, organic and specialty items can be extensive – often half the price you would pay for the same item at Whole Foods or another grocery store. Of course it is a good idea to check the dates, but many products may consume the dates on the label if you are not bothered about that. Money Crashers provides additional information about what to look out for if you choose to shop in a sort of ‘second’ store.